Free Things To Do in San Antonio
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When the River Walk seems too busy, seek refuge from the heat and the swarms of tourists in Brackenridge Park. Its 343 acres offer much in the way of relaxation: rustic stone bridges and shaded walkways are perfect for strolling, and the Japanese Tea Gardens and San Antonio Botanical Gardens beckon to botanists. Dress casual so you can take advantage of Brackenridge's jogging trails, golf course and athletic fields, or let your kids take a spin on the carousel and the miniature train. The park also hosts outdoor concerts in the natural Sunken Garden Theater. In and around the park, you'll also find popular attractions like the San Antonio Zoo and the Witte Museum.
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If there's one thing San Antonio is known for, it's the Alamo. Once a Franciscan mission, it was here that 189 Texans fought and lost their lives in 1836 during a 13-day siege by Mexican ruler, President General Antonio López de Santa Anna. The fight sparked Texas' struggle for independence and today, the Alamo stands as a tribute to these men, displaying artifacts belonging to some of the Alamo's most famous defenders, including Davy Crockett and James Bowie. Once you've finished visiting the Alamo (either on your own or by guided tour), head around back where a small museum and research library offer further insight into the siege. Or take a twirl around the gift shop where you can find a variety of souvenirs to help you "Remember the Alamo." Recent visitors say the site can get rather busy, so try to visit early in the morning or later in the evening. Most visitors agree that even when it's packed with tourists, the Alamo is a must-see in San Antonio. "[T]he feeling of bravery and history that took place here makes it all worthwhile," said one TripAdvisor user.
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Many agree that the best way to see San Antonio is by taking a stroll along the River Walk, or Paseo del Rio. San Antonio's most-visited tourist attraction meanders along the banks of the San Antonio River through the center of the city, connecting major attractions like Brackenridge Park and the San Antonio Museum of Art. Flanking the River Walk are dozens of restaurants, boutique hotels and sidewalk cafes shaded by colorful umbrellas, and street performers often fill the air with mariachi music. If you're in San Antonio in January, don't miss the River Walk Mud Festival and Parade, during which the river is drained and the muddy riverbed becomes the prime venue for celebration.
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If you're touring San Antonio, the San Fernando Cathedral is hard to miss. Still an active house of worship, the cathedral is one of the oldest in the country, constructed in 1738 by colonists from the Canary Islands. It was here that Wild West legend James Bowie was married and that General Antonio López de Santa Anna indicated his plans for the Alamo. Some believe that many heroes from the Alamo (including Davy Crockett) are buried here in the unmarked tomb. And despite enduring damage from a fire in the late 19th century, the San Fernando Cathedral maintains its antique appearance, beckoning you to tour its breathtaking interior.
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Aside from the Alamo, this is where all of San Antonio's historic missions — Mission San José, Mission Concepción, Mission Espada and Mission San Juan — are located, making this a must-see site for history buffs. Established along the San Antonio River in the 18th century by Franciscan friars, the missions stand as a tribute to Spain's success in spreading Catholicism through the Southwest and into Mexico. Each mission (located approximately 3 miles apart from one another) is beautiful in its own way, from the undisturbed frescos at Mission Concepción to the Romanesque arches of Mission San Juan. Recent visitors suggest taking advantage of the free tours offered by the park rangers, noting how much more they learned during their visit. You can also hike or bike the Mission Trail (there are also roads for visitors with cars) past each individual structure to learn about how the friars lived side-by-side with Native Americans. Scattered around the missions are remnants of granaries, workshops and water mills.
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